Not Your Usual: David Callaghan on his new Fringe show

Not Your Usual is a new series from The Skinny and Glayva highlighting exciting, interesting and unusual artists from across the Scottish scene. To kick things off, we meet comedian, animator and lover of miniatures, David Callaghan

Advertorial by Peter Simpson | 01 Aug 2023
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David Callaghan is not your usual comedian. Instead, he pulls elements from stand-up, theatre, film, animation and technology together into shows that defy straightforward explanation. When we meet up with him over a Vamillion – a shaken cocktail, or Glocktail if you will, of Glayva whisky liqueur, vermouth, Scotch whisky and blood orange juice – he’s just returned to Glasgow from a month of touring his unique brand of storytelling comedy around Europe.

His latest show – Everything That’s Me Is Falling Apart – won the ‘Take My Breath Away’ panel prize at last month’s Reykjavik Fringe. It’s a multimedia comedy theatre show, with augmented reality, complex technology and handmade miniature sets arranged in boxes on stage, and at the centre of it all is… a small toy train.

“There's a part of my PhD that is about auratic technology and how it's really enjoyable to play with a typewriter or watch cogs or look at a train set,” he tells us. “Technology that is analogue has a real aura about it and it's enjoyable to be in a room with it.”

A close-up photo of a toy train on a track. Wires hang from the train, and a box containing a small diorama of a bar can be seen behind it.
A toy train and diorama on stage during David Callaghan's show Everything That's Me Is Falling Apart in Reykjavik. Photo: Dan Zerin

As Callaghan enthusiastically tells us, the show combines physical sets with projected visuals – he completed a Master’s degree in animation during lockdown – to help tell a series of interwoven stories about love, loss and connection. It’s a long way from Callaghan’s early experiences of the classic stand-up paradigm, where “combative” gigs often feel more like a sport than an artform. “It's often about winning,” he says. “It's not about the communal experiences. You're almost versus the audience, and you have to beat them.

“I always went to see club comedy in Edinburgh when I was a kid,” he says, “but over the years, I think I've just become softer. As a teenager, I loved how combative it was; the heckling, the real sweaty, bear pit experience of it. But the joy of that fell away.

“I started doing comedy in 2012, and I was a club comic all the way up until the pandemic, but I started to change how I'd make shows in 2016.” This began a period of experimenting and pushing boundaries, with mixed initial results (he offers an apology to anyone who came to see him “before about 2019”).

He says: “I certainly would take bad experiences doing comedy really to heart. They happened a few times in the early days, but as I was doing pretty likeable club comedy, people would like it, or they would go ‘oh well, he’s trying to do whatever’... they found it relatable.

“When I started doing stuff that was stranger, 2016 onwards,” he laughs, “that's when real distrust set in. Getting through that was the hard bit, but now I think I've got a way of working where the work doesn't define me in the same way as it did anymore. I'm much prouder of it.”

That pride comes partly from the sheer time and effort required for shows of this kind. “I'd already had this idea for this new show and that was supposed to go to the Fringe in 2020,” he tells us, “but I'm really glad that it didn't because it wouldn't have been ready. Now, I can animate, I've built my own augmented reality comedy theatre show. I'm really proud of it, and I can take it out to Reykjavik and when it wins an award, I can go ‘Yeah, because it's good!’”

In the heat of the Edinburgh Fringe, where thousands of shows compete for your attention and the temptation is to go big and loud, David Callaghan offers a chance to immerse yourself in a handmade world. He describes the show as creating that sense of community he felt he was missing in other forms of comedy. “That's really enjoyable, and that's kind of what I wanted to make. It's nice to see people look at the boxes, and then look at the big screen and understand that there is proper love at work here. You know, everyone wants to look at miniatures and I'm giving them the opportunity to look at them really, really big!”

Everything That’s Me Is Falling Apart, Greenside @ Infirmary St, 4-12 Aug, 12.40pm

Follow David on Twitter @davidcallaghan and on Instagram @callaghandlethis

Listen to an extended chat with David Callaghan on The Skinny and Glayva's new podcast, Not Your Usual, in the player above, on Spotify or on Apple Podcasts